Red headpieces, set as crowns upon combed back hair, bob up and down keeping with the beat. Bright eyes sparkle and survey the crowd under eyelids decorated with a palette of different colors. A whisper is exchanged between the red costumes. Pristine spins are executed. Exhaled relief. Music stops. Arms down. Quick bow. Sprint to change. The uniformity of the dancers is one that never needed to be studied. They have been doing this before they were even in school.
They have been set on this routine by Carolyn Cunningham. She has taught all of these kids Slavic dancing which is fondly known by the dancers as “Russian”. The Russian dances, along with many others from a plethora of cultures, are performed at the St. Michael’s Orthodox Church Taste of St. Michael’s every year.
A Taste of St. Michael’s is a medley of cultures. These cultures are represented in this festival through the church tours, food, people of these nations, and iconography that is available for sale. Everywhere you turn you are greeted with a new taste, smell, or sight.
Being the only teacher who teaches children as young as three, she is the perfect example of patience; that is, until one of her dancers comes unprepared. One unprepared dancer is worse than learning of an injured dancer the day of the performance.
Ms. Cunningham takes dancing as seriously as the Russians took Orthodoxy when they inherited it after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. Unfortunately, Alexandra Bolus was unprepared.
On stage Alexandra was like all the other dancers. Red headpiece decorated with multicolored ribbons, a white peasant shirt, red flowing dress, and black boots. Nothing makes her stand out except her story.
“I didn’t check to see if I had my Russian costume when I was supposed to,” she said, “I thought I at least had a skirt and shirt but I could not even find that the night before because I am a procrastinator. Luckily Carolyn was prepared.” Alexandra’s face lights up as she remembers her close call with doom on the day where Murphy’s Law is inscribed in the minds of the dancers.
A peasant shirt with a red skirt emerges; arms on hips, lips pursed, a Russian ballerina. A cowering figure walks to meet her at the car. From afar, the confrontation at the white sedan appeared hostile.
“She was nice to me because I grew up with her and we used to sit in the same pew. She just smiled and called me a bad girl. If it was anyone else she would have been mad,” Alexandra beamed with pride, knowing that the only thing that saved her was a personal bond. Such a confrontation is easy to forgive when it comes to such a situation.
As members of the only Eastern Orthodox Church in Louisville, Kentucky, it is very important for the dancers and volunteers to represent their religion correctly. Eastern Orthodoxy began 2000 years ago on the religious feast of Pentecost, forty days after the Resurrection of Jesus.
Wanting to make the entertainment authentic, the church provides costumes from all the different regions for these dances. These costumes always seem to be a problem though; a problem which always seems to plague Greek dancers. The dance instructors pass the different costumes out to different groups of dancers. As the dances become more challenging the costumes become more intricate. The youngest group wears a black jumper dress with a white dress underneath it. The next group up wears blue silky skirts and a maroon half jacket decorated with lace. The eldest group, also known as the war dancers, wears floor length white dresses with black half jackets which are decorated with gold string.
There have only been squabbles between the youngest group and the middle group over costumes. Most of the dancers believe they deserve to move up because of their age and some because of their skill. Their religion, which has carried on for centuries, has been serene but also not without arguments.
Eastern Orthodoxy used to be united with the Roman Catholic Church but had many disagreements with them. They finally separated in what is known today as the Great Schism which occurred in 1054 AD when the pope of the west and the patriarch of the east excommunicated each other.
To this day there are disputes of who is the true heir of Christianity.
Though Eastern Orthodoxy is not widespread in America it is a part of life and culture of many other nations, including Egypt, Albania, Ethiopia, and Greece.
“There was an issue with costumes. There were not enough costumes and feelings were hurt. I think it was unnecessary,” Alexandra remarked, voicing the concerns of the other dancers. It forced sister against sister and friend against friend much like the numerous Ecumenical Councils that the Eastern Orthodox clergy faced during the start of the religion.
But like those, this fight came out with anger thrown away. In the end they all come to agreements amongst themselves and kept the show going. Arabic balady dresses. Black flats. Coined hip scarves. Wooden canes held firmly. A painted smile. The music goes on and so do they.